Peak(s):  Fuller Pk  -  13,761 feet
Golden Horn  -  13,780 feet
Vermilion Pk  -  13,894 feet
US Grant Pk  -  13,767 feet
Date Posted:  09/16/2017
Date Climbed:   09/02/2017
Author:  koeffling
 Labor Day in Ice Lakes Basin   

Ice Lake Basin
Day 1: Drive down, pack in
Day 2: Fuller, Vermilion, Golden Horn
Day 3: US Grant, pack out, drive back

Ice Lake Basin has been on my radar for a few years. There seems to have been a recent surge of Facebook visitors to the area and their postings are envious, so weeks ago I planned to take a couple days off for Labor Day and head down. I asked Chris to come and the response, "I've never heard of it, but sure" was all I needed.

I had high hopes of getting at least V2, maybe V4 in addition to the others on this trip but I must have been off my game a bit and was moving quite slow through the whole weekend. This will give me another reason to return (like you need one. Once you see it you may want a reason to return).

Our trip down from the front range was uneventful. We arrived near the Mineral Creek TH and snagged a spot up the Clear Creek switchback. We had a small adventurous moment where we saw what the Subaru could do on a tight turn on three wheels (3 points of contact are recommended for driving and climbing alike). I loaded my pack with only the essentials, trying to move lightly: two tents for two people, a box of wine, food for 8 days, extra clothes and sleeping gear, footwear choices, but for some reason the book in my car seemed like too much weight to pack. I put what felt like a baby elephant on my hips and began the trek in. I thought the approach was a steady uphill and pretty: wandering through forests and aspen groves, and lots of water until you top out in lower ice lake basin. The camping spots are endless in this area. Even though the majority of the state was here in this basin this weekend, we were able to find a lovely secluded spot away from the trail on a high spot, sheltered by trees. There is camping in the upper basin, around both Ice and Island Lake. There were a ton of campers around Ice Lake and I was glad to 1- be away from the crowds, and 2- not carry heavy packs any further than we did. We set up camp around 5:00 or so and rain forced us to retreat to our tents around 6:00. It thundered and was lightening for a good portion of the early evening and night time, we were glad to be down low for the evening. We set a tentative plan to get started "whenever we wake up" the next morning and called it an early night around 8:30pm. I awoke to what I thought was dawn light around 1:30am, it took me several minutes to realize the full moon was so bright it looked like morning. After a few additional crummy hours of sleep we finally get up and head out around 7:00.

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Fall has come to Ice Lake Basin

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Sunrise in the lower basin

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The Vermilion trio


We head up towards Ice Lake to tackle the Vermilion trio. There were many people at the lake and already in the morning light it was an electric blue. In fact, Ice Lake's neon blue color was so shocking and out of place, we took a double take each time we saw it. Anytime we came up on a hill and Ice Lake appeared, we couldn't help but comment how blue it was (all weekend, every time. It's SO blue!). We head south towards Fuller Lake to filter some water and set out towards the Fuller-Vermilion saddle. There is an obvious trail to the lake and a visible trail up the saddle. It was loose but we followed a faint switchback up. From the saddle it's a quick and easy jaunt up to Fuller's summit where we saw one other nice gentleman who was at his destination for the day, enjoying the sunrise. We don't stay too long and head back down towards Vermilion. There is a good trail all the way to the summit, mostly staying south-ish of the ridge. There is easy scrambling towards the summit.

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A good trail all the way to the summit

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From the saddle to Fuller's summit

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Fuller's summit view. Not too shabby

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Headed down towards Vermilion. What a rad looking peak.

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We like cliffs

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Traversing around the towers of Vermilion

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From the south side of Vermilion

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Vermilion summit view


There are several options for descending Vermilion. We chose to come back the way we came and traverse around the NE/front side of the mountain over to the Vermilion-Golden Horn saddle. There is a supposed to be a line down the opposite ridge to the saddle, also a descent off a couloir near the summit to the north side then around to the saddle. The couloir looked unpleasant and we couldn't quite see the whole line. The ridge was probably loose and we felt better down climbing what we had climbed up. It took very little time to return the way we came and we quickly made it over to Golden Horn's saddle. From there, there's a decent trail to the summit. The summit block is small and has a vertiginous cliff off the west side that is quite shear. Views to the Wilson group, Chicago and Vestal Basins, Sneffels, and Lake City group were all obvious and amazing. We stayed on the summit for a bit to soak it in, take lots of photos, and chat with a nice couple from Durango when they joined. There was a summit register tube but no bottom (and none on the other peaks that we could find) and thus nothing inside to sign. We headed back down to the saddle where the route descriptions I read led us to the Scarlett Pass. The guidebooks say the path was hard to see but would reveal itself when we were there. Sure... We descend down near a white gulley in the saddle and stay descenders right when the white gulley takes a steep plunge downward. It was loose and left me with a good bruise on the hip. It may be best just to tuck and roll till you hit the bottom.

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Heading over to Golden Horn

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The Vermilion Golden Horn saddle

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Looking back at Fuller and Vermilion

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Golden Horn's summit was pretty spectacular

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Pilot Knob looking knobby

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Down this loose mess


We head down, filter some water, stop and admire Ice Lake, and head back to camp for a pleasant evening overlooking the lower basin. The temperatures were mild, there was a fire pit with wood ready for us. After a crummy night of sleeping in the woods, we were both ready for an early night.

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Heading back to camp. It's so blue! US Grant behind

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Wildflowers still active in the basin


The following day we got up when we felt like it and rolled out of camp around 7:45am heading towards Island Lake. We saw a gentleman swimming from the island to the edge of the lake, there may not be a better way to wake up. We ascend sluggishly (well, I do at least) towards the V4-Grant saddle. From there it's another straight up towards the summit. It's loose, but not terribly steep. We hit the class 4 crux wall and find a bypass that is a fun class 3 option. At the crux wall down climb a few feet to a narrow gully to the left. It looks like it doesn't go as it enters a small cave-like notch. It also looks like it may house vampires. It doesn't. Just keep climbing up and you'll exit through a small hole in the rock. I read as many trip reports and route descriptions as I could get my hands on before our trip and I did not come across this option. This bypass is apparently not too secret as there were cairns as we exited and it looked as well traveled as any other part of the trail. From the cave exit it was a few more minutes to scramble to the summit.

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Island Lake in the morning

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Up towards the V4 US Grant saddle

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At the saddle, the remaining route to the summit

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The crux wall. Head up the dark gulley to the left for a class 3 bypass

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The bat cave exit

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Nearing the summit, I love the sunshine and clouds

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Headed down from near the summit

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Not a vampire

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Heading down, near the summit

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V4 backdrop

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Island Lake, gorgeous from every angle


Every peak in the basin has a lovely view, after we satisfy our selfie quota we scuttle down US Grant and hang out at Island Lake for a few minutes. The afternoon light on the lakes was stunning and the water seemed to change as the sun moved further west. As the hikers trickled in we head back down to camp, pack up, and drive directly to a burrito in Ouray. The afternoon sunshine, a patio and a beer was a delightful end to a long weekend in the SJs. And V4, V2, and Pilot Knob left plenty of reasons to return. We'll be back!

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Island Lake with US Grant

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Heading back to Ice Lake before heading out. We'll be back!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
d_baker

Wormhole
09/17/2017 15:57
is another name for that route work-around you did, or at least the name I've heard it called before.
Your photo of hiking back to the V4/Grant saddle shows the start of the route for V4, as a climber's trail wraps around the side from the saddle.

Nice report, great area!


B_2

Lovely Report
10/15/2020 05:45
You had me at "baby elephant".



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